Posted on: June 19, 2017 at 12:24 pm
Last updated: May 8, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Chances are, you’ve accidentally inhaled some water or other liquid many times, whether from swimming or even just taking a drink. While this may seem commonplace and harmless, breathing in water can have deadly consequences, and children are particularly vulnerable. This is a danger that the Delgado family from Texas is now advocating for after losing their four year old son to dry drowning.

The Delgado’s Story


Francisco Delgado III was swimming in the Texas City Dike with his family on Memorial Day weekend, where he inhaled some water. He seemed fine, continuing to play and go about daily life without any issues. (1)


That is, until almost a week later, when he was rushed to the hospital with fluid found in his lungs and around his heart. He passed away that Saturday, almost a whole week since the swimming incident. (1)

What is Dry Drowning?

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dry drowning symptoms, secondary drowning

Dry drowning occurs when small amounts of water enter the lungs, usually while swimming, that later set off potentially fatal reactions in the body. Children are the most vulnerable to this tragedy. (1, 2)

Dry Drowning vs Secondary Drowning


Dry Drowning happens when water enter the upper airway and causes the vocal chords to spasm. This cuts off airflow to the lungs, which triggers neurogenic pulmonary edema, a shock reflex in which the lungs begin to fill with body fluid and interferes with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. As oxygen is increasingly depleted and carbon dioxide builds up, this shock reflex becomes worse and the person drowns. Symptoms of dry drowning (listed below) usually appear within an hour of the water inhaling incident. (2)

Secondary Drowning occurs when small amounts of water enter the lungs and disrupts the surfactant that coats the inside of the tiny airways deep in your lungs and prevents them from sticking together or collapsing. Without this substance, the airways collapse, pulmonary edema (body fluid sent to the lungs) occurs, and the same cycle seen with dry drowning occurs, eventually completely cutting of the person’s ability to breathe. Symptoms of secondary drowning usually take longer to set in, anywhere from 1 to 24 hours after the incident. (2)

“This is why every child who has fallen into the water or experienced a near-drowning should be taken to the emergency room immediately. If we can intervene quickly, it’s possible for a child to recover…Watch them closely and rescue them quickly. Even if they are submerged for a minute or two, they should go to the hospital immediately.”

~ Purva Grover, MD, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Children’s Pediatric Emergency Departments.

Symptoms of Dry and Secondary Drowning

Though they have different onset times, the symptoms of dry drowning and secondary drowning are the same. It is extremely important to keep a close eye on your child for the 24 hours following even a minor pool-water swallowing incident. If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, take them to the emergency room immediately: (1, 2)

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing and/or chest discomfort
  • Sleeplessness
  • Fatigue, irritability, and behavioral changes
  • Vomiting

Remember that your child may not show any signs of stress right away and will continue to play as normal. Remain vigilant and act immediately if any changes occur, do not wait. If your child does not show symptoms, there is no need to panic. 95% of children who have close encounters with water or inhale some pool water have no issues, but watch to ensure that your child isn’t one of the 5% that do. (2)

Join us in helping the Delgado family spread awareness about this tragic condition and share this article with your friends and family. You could help save a child’s life.

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